When he wrote "Erostratus" in , Jean-Paul Sartre was seven years out of college. He had begun a very close relationship with Simone de Beauvoir which would, however, permit physical infidelities on both sides, he had completed his military service, he had gone through a considerable inheritance left to him by his grandmother, and he had spent a year working at the French Institute in Berlin in order to study with the German philosopher Husserl, who had developed a particular brand of phenomenology from Hegel. Sartre was teaching philosophy at a Le Havre school, and Beauvoir was at Rouen, about 75 kilometers away. Sartre was having a liaison with Olga Kosakiewicz, one of Beauvoir's pupils. He did not vote in the or elections, although he was drifting steadily toward the left and had supported the Front Populaire in a rejected newspaper article in
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RSS Feed Search. Shortly into the story, it becomes clear that the crime is mostly an attempt to escape his mediocrity through an act of powerful self-assertion. We will look at this story not only through a traditional psychoanalytic lens, but also by applying important Lacanian principles.
However, in many ways, we arrive at the deepest understanding of Hilbert and his motivations by bringing Lacanian theories into the discussion. What strikes him is that while nobody knows the name of the man who built the temple of Artemis, everyone remembers Erostratus, the man who destroyed it. In what follows, Hilbert buys a gun and carries it around in public, becoming sexually aroused by the possibilities, and the power he now possesses.
He becomes more and more obsessed with this power and even visits a prostitute, commanding her to walk around naked at gunpoint he does this several times, each time ejaculating in his pants. As the day of his crime draws nearer, Hilbert spends his life savings on expensive meals and prostitutes, and even mails letters of his murderous intent to famous French writers.
Yet, in the end, Hilbert is incapable of following through. Hilbert must have others verify and be witness to his crime for the weight of his actions to seem real to him. Hilbert no longer lives in a world where his actions and choices hold any real weight or significance. This lack of self-determination plunges Hilbert into a kind of moral nihilism, which only exacerbates his problems. Another significant element to note is the rise in power Hilbert feels as he buys a gun and brings it around with him wherever he goes.
Furthermore, one would not have to use queer theory, nor is it beyond any stretch of the imagination, to assert that Sartre uses the gun here as a phallic symbol. For Hilbert, happiness truly is a warm gun , as the gun symbolizes the power he has always lacked socially and sexually. The fact that Hilbert makes prostitutes walk around naked at gun point, without letting them touch or look at him, is another teller.
This voyeuristic behavior, according to Sartre, is a mechanism by which the individual avoids his or her own subjectivity—shirking responsibility—in order to live through the imagined subjectivity of another Sartre, , What, then, is it motivated by? In the letter, he congratulates the famous authors for being humanists, for loving men.
He goes on to sarcastically praise the authors for relieving and consoling the masses. Later in the letter, Hilbert explains his own hatred of humanity. Is it my fault I prefer to watch the sea-lions feeding?
Hilbert, on the other hand, is not a misanthrope; he is a self-reflective watcher, a voyeur. Hilbert, likewise, is too self-conscious to experience normal human emotions. He does not simply see things; but sees himself seeing things. As such, he has lost the unselfconscious grace and naturalness he so despises in others.
This deep self-consciousness, this narcissism, is something that alienates Hilbert, and makes normal communication with others almost impossible. For Lacan, this marks the emergence of the ego, as the child realizes it can control the movements of this new image. The subject will then try to develop a sense of its ideal-I by relying on others for reinforcement Sharpe, Web. But what does this have to do with our protagonist? Hilbert, it seems, illustrates an extended form of this basic discord.
There are many ways that the subject attempts to deal with the lack associated with this phenomenon. At the outset, we get a glimpse of Hilbert interacting with others the only way he knows how—by watching them from his seventh story window:.
You really have to see men from above. Sartre The symbolic order, according to Lacan, is the time when the child enters into language, and learns to adhere to the rules or the order of society Homer In other words, an important part of the transition we discussed, and the subsequent relationship between the ideal-I and the social-I, is that the subject develop if not a healthy, then at least a working self-image or self-conception Lacan In this way, while Hilbert believes himself to be a man above humanity, he is really only a subject that has been molded by humanity.
In plain terms, while Hilbert claims to be a being above humanity, his true being or lack of being is defined almost solely in relation to the Other—which is fairly ironic. Indeed, it is well known that Lacanian psychoanalysis and existential psychoanalysis do not always see eye to eye. Nevertheless, the two systems work together quite well in this study—one locating the problem, and the other, in a sense, pathologizing it, or at least taking a normative stance on the matter.
The lonely Hilbert lives in and through others, yet hides from others; this creates a very interesting psychic dynamic. Much of it stems from the cognitive dissonance he experiences, but this mechanism itself seems to arise from events related to the mirror phase, and the transition from the imaginary to the symbolic order. In the end, however, we are left with one question: Is there any hope for our protagonist? In the final paragraph, thinking of the man he just shot, Hilbert shows us the first signs of any kind of moral conscience or awareness: Pointing the gun at his head, Hilbert desperately wants know if he has killed the big man.
Lacan, Jacques. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Sartre, Jean-Paul. Martin Turnell. Norfolk, CT: New Directions, Existential Psychoanalysis. Hazel Barnes. Sartre, Jean-Paul, and Lloyd Alexander. The Wall, and Other Stories. Lloyd Alexander. New York: New Directions, Sharpe, Mathew. IEOP, 7 Nov. Zuern, John. University of Hawaii. It is the structure of language that speaks the subject and not the other way around. You are commenting using your WordPress.
You are commenting using your Google account. You are commenting using your Twitter account. You are commenting using your Facebook account. Notify me of new comments via email. Notify me of new posts via email. Short URL Comments. Create a free website or blog at WordPress. At the outset, we get a glimpse of Hilbert interacting with others the only way he knows how—by watching them from his seventh story window: You really have to see men from above.
Erostratus by Jean-Paul Sartre, 1939
RSS Feed Search. Shortly into the story, it becomes clear that the crime is mostly an attempt to escape his mediocrity through an act of powerful self-assertion. We will look at this story not only through a traditional psychoanalytic lens, but also by applying important Lacanian principles. However, in many ways, we arrive at the deepest understanding of Hilbert and his motivations by bringing Lacanian theories into the discussion. What strikes him is that while nobody knows the name of the man who built the temple of Artemis, everyone remembers Erostratus, the man who destroyed it. In what follows, Hilbert buys a gun and carries it around in public, becoming sexually aroused by the possibilities, and the power he now possesses.